REVIEW: Sisters with a Side of Greens by Michelle Stimpson

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Sisters Rose Tillman and Marvina Nash haven’t spoken in decades—not since Rose sent Marvina $40 to register their business and Marvina spent it on something else. Rose begins a long career at the post office and Marvina spends her weekends cooking chicken dinners for the church fundraiser. Marvina never leaves the canister of their mama’s special spice mix in the church kitchen, and she shares the recipe with no one.

Rose never forgave Marvina for that $40 betrayal, but when she retires, she’s still dreaming of opening a restaurant with her sister, using mama’s secret spice mix to make their fortune in fried chicken and Southern comfort food. To her horror, Rose realizes she’s forgotten the spice mix recipe. There’s nothing to do but get in her car to drive the two hours to Marvina’s house back in Fork City, Texas. Marvina’s determined never to speak to Rose again, but figures she’ll meet her on the doorstep to hear what she has to say, before closing the door in her face.

Of course, that’s not what happens next, as the sisters find a way to turn their mama’s legacy into a bright new future for their whole community.

CW/TW – mention of miscarriages, mention of past thoughts of suicide, mention of past homophobia, unwed pregnant teenager

Dear Ms. Stimpson, 

It was the cover that got me. And though the book has some heavier subjects than the cartoon cover might imply, it also has a lot of humor and heart. Plus enough talk of yummy sounding food that I wish I could actually try the Dewberry sisters’ magical seasoning.

Every family has got some grudge or misunderstanding that has soured relations among them. Some of them are honest to goodness “yeah, this isn’t something that we can come back from” and some of them are “we didn’t speak for decades because of this? Marvina and Rose haven’t been close for forty years for a lot of reasons which they’re just about to start exploring. That is if they can get past the anger that still simmers over what they think happened so many years ago.

With Rose now retired from her job with the USPS, she’s thinking about what she wants to do next. Can she revive her dream of opening a restaurant that will use her mother’s secret spice blend to bring in happy customers? It didn’t work forty years ago for reasons which each sister remembers differently. Her trip to see her younger sister Marvina in order to refresh her memory about exactly how many pinches of certain ingredients make up the closely guarded spice blend also threatens to bring up all their past issues which are numerous.  

Marvina is one of those people who live to be hospitable. Their mother raised them in a strict church and with a severe brand of religion. Thou shalt not go against Elders or the church hierarchy. When her church seems poised to pivot in order to try and pull in younger parishioners, Marvina is at risk of losing the thing she’s loved, which is cooking with the youth to sell plates of home cooked Southern food to raise money. The Elders are set in “new and improved” which will push Marvina and others, who have given generously of their time and efforts, out. 

Then the sisters discover there’s a young, unwed pregnant teenager who has been living in an accessory dwelling unit behind Marvina’s house. Kerresha’s relationship with her own mother is strained and Rose and Marvina can’t see putting her out on the street when she obviously needs help. 

There is a lot more going on in the book. Let me first tell people that the book is very Southern. Southern food, Southern culture, Southern dialect. Marvina is very dedicated to her conservative church and her religious beliefs – and Rose’s lack of them – figure prominently. The small town in which most of the book takes place is a hotbed of gossip. Past red-lining of Blacks into a certain section of town is mentioned and there is a reason why Marvina and her adult son don’t communicate much. I refer you back to the description of her church which I think will explain things. 

It’s not so much miscommunications that have separated the sisters as it is misremembering or not having the full picture of past events. Neither sister is at first willing to let go of her “truth” and a major reason they haven’t talked is due to not wishing to criticize their (now dead) mother who was a strong influence on them. It will take a long time before Rose is ready to test the waters about her plans with Marvina and even then things won’t go smoothly. 

At one point, one of the sisters (paraphrasing) describes Kerresha as an old soul in a young body. Nineteen year old Kerresha doesn’t initially understand some of the sisters’ expressions and Kerresha’s Insta-talk baffles Marvina and occasionally Rose but Kerresha isn’t one to not speak her mind. She doesn’t hold with sticking to old customs “just because” and her blunt observations give (mostly) Marvina a lot to think about. I could understand why her character was there – to (respectfully) shake things up and highlight where Marvina and Rose were butting heads for no good reason but after a while, her comments seemed a little bit too on point. Still I liked her freshness. 

Marvina and Rose have a lot to learn about what really happened in the past and unlearn a great deal of what they thought they knew. Given how long these wounds had festered and how settled the sisters were in believing they were right and the other was wrong, it’s understandable that it takes most of the book to work these out. Brava that these things causing the estrangement between them are believable even if I wanted to throw my hands up at times. In the end, they both get a new outlook on the past and move forward with a plan that suits them both. B             

~Jayne

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Jayne

Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 25 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there’s no TSTL characters and is currently reading more fantasy and SciFi.

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